Father’s Day Lessons

Father may not always know best, but he often imparts wisdom—either directly or by example—that his children remember and use in their careers. From staying true to who you are to embracing uncertainty, here are four things CEOs and business leaders learned from dads:


“Have a strong work ethic, but put family first.”
—Rosalind Brewer, Walmart CEO

Walmart CEO Rosalind Brewer grew up in a blue-collar household in Detroit, the youngest of five children. Her father held three jobs and had a strong work ethic, Brewer told Real Simple: “We were never allowed to sleep late,” she said in the interview. “I’m still an early riser.”

While her father worked long hours, he made it to every one of his children’s recitals or events. Brewer said it was her father’s commitment to family that guides her work decisions. When she accepted the position with Sam’s Club, for example, she commuted between the headquarters in Arkansas and her home in Atlanta. She tries to make it to her children’s sporting events, and has nightly chats with them via Skype.


“You’re never too young to prepare.”
—Denise Morrison, president and CEO of Campbell Soup Co.

Denise Morrison, president and CEO of Campbell Soup Co., said growing up with her father, Dennis Sullivan, was like getting an education in business. The AT&T executive would bring home models of phones and talk to his daughters about product development and marketing. When the girls wanted something new, like a bicycle, they were required to write business plans.

“He was educating us about so many things, from pay for performance to the importance of changing jobs often to gain broad experience,” Morrison said in an interview with Bloomberg. “He said he saw the world opening up for women and wanted us to be prepared.”


“Don’t micromanage.”
—Julie Smolyansky, CEO of Lifeway Foods

The best lesson Lifeway Foods CEO Julie Smolyansky learned from her father was to not repeat the mistakes he had made. Michael Smolyansky liked to be involved in every aspect of the company, and would frequently roll up his sleeves to fix machinery when there was an issue.

“It was his baby,” Smolyansky told BizJournal. “Every employee came to him for everything. No one felt empowered to make a decision or make a mistake.”

Smolyansky took over the business in 2002 when her father died of a heart attack, becoming the youngest CEO of a publicly traded company. She recognized that her father’s methods weren’t the most efficient way to run a business, and she made the decision to hire the right people and give them authority to complete their tasks.


“Embrace uncertainty.”
—Ariel Kaye, founder of Parachute

Ariel Kaye, founder of the bedding company Parachute, says her dad’s wisdom helped give her the courage to start her own business. “My dad likes to say, ‘Success is being comfortable with uncertainty,’” she says. “There’s a great deal of risk involved in building a brand as an entrepreneur.”

Kaye says she’s had moments when she second-guessed herself, but her dad’s sage advice reminded her to persevere. “It helped me to remain committed to Parachute’s mission . . . even in those times of doubt,” she says.

(Article first appeared in Fast Company)

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